Released 30 years ago, Aliens saw Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) return with a bunch of Colonial Marines to declare all out war on H.R. Giger’s acid blooded monster.
A radical sequel, Aliens turned the slow dread of Ridley Scott’s Alien on its head, in the process creating one of the most intense action films ever made. The film cemented the reputation of then up-and-coming Canadian director James Cameron, who had just made that other seminal ‘80s sci-fi classic The Terminator and would go on to deliver the two most successful films of all-time in Titanic and Avatar.
The movie still stands the test of time, and many would even go as far as to say it’s better than the original Alien. But what happened to the cast once the Alien Queen had been unceremoniously ejected into deep space? While the Colonial Marines may have been wiped out in their droves, we’re going to find out by picking off the cast of Aliens one by one.
Here’s Where are they now? The Cast of Aliens.
15. Sigourney Weaver – Ripley
Sigourney Weaver’s return as Ellen Ripley netted the actress a Oscar nomination – a rarity for the sci-fi genre. It’s an incredible performance, turning Ripley into an action hero who this time takes the fight to the Alien Queen.
The 80s would prove to be Weaver’s decade. Not only did she appear in the smash-hit Ghostbusters and its sequel, but in a rare duel win, she took home the 1988 Golden Globe for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress for her work in Gorillas in the Midst and Working Girl. Aside from her acclaimed work, Weaver has been called the “sci-fi queen,” making appearances in everything from Futurama to Wall-E. She also gloriously sent up the trope of the aging actress in 1997’s Star Trek spoof Galaxy Quest (watch this now).
Weaver returned to work with James Cameron on Avatar and is rumored to be returning to Pandora in the upcoming sequels. Given that her character bites it in the first movie, that might seem an odd casting decision. But Weaver knows better than most of sci-fi’s ability to resurrect long-dead characters, once commenting: “no one ever dies in science fiction.”
However, she hasn’t quite left Ripley behind her, reprising the role in the troubled David Fincher production Alien 3 and the truly out there Alien: Resurrection, despite the character being killed off in the third installment. With Neill Blomkamp’s rumored Alien sequel on an indefinite hold, have we seen the last of Ellen Ripley?
14. Carrie Henn – Newt
The inclusion of 9-year-old Newt gave Aliens an emotional resonance that went deeper than the primal fear of the first movie. Not only were you scared for the fate of a child in such a harrowing environment, but Ripley’s maternal connection with Newt added depth and humanity that elevates the film above a sci-fi shoot ‘em up. On casting Henn, Cameron remarked “There was a quiet, soulful quality that I was looking for with the character,” and it seems he found it. Her role is central to Ripley getting over the loss of her daughter and drives much of the plot.
But what happened to Carrie Henn, the young actress who played Newt? Well, after filming finished on Aliens, Henn left acting behind, going on to work as a teacher in northern California. To this day, however, she still exchanges letters with Sigourney Weaver and was even the Hollywood star’s guest at the premier of follow-up Alien 3.
Being a child actor on the set of Aliens, you’d be forgiven for thinking Henn might have been scared of the aliens during filming? Not so. According to Henn, she was friends with the actors inside the alien suits. When it came time to be chased by one of them, she would pretend that they something far worse: dogs. She must have known some terrifying dogs growing up.
13. Michael Biehn – Corporal Hicks
Michael Biehn will always have a heart in sci-fi fans’ hearts for his performance as Reece in The Terminator and that of the incredibly chilled Corporal Hicks in Aliens. Interestingly, Biehn wasn’t even meant to be in the movie — he replaced first-choice James Remar, who was fired shortly after production begun. Following Aliens, Biehn went on to appear in James Cameron’s The Abyss, where he played the tightly wound (and awesomely mustachioed) Lieutenant Hiram Coffey.
Unfortunately Biehn’s reappearance as Reece in Terminator 2: Judgement Day never made it out of the editing booth. But that didn’t stop Biehn from making some notable appearances throughout the 90s, particularly in Michael Bay-actioner The Rock and Tombstone (alongside both Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton). Biehn also voiced Rex Colt in 80s action pastiche Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. And that is well worth seeking out for anyone in possession of an Xbox 360.
Things could have turned out different for Biehn, had Sigourney Weaver not returned to her iconic role as Ripley for Alien 3. Amazingly, Fox initially hired cyber-punk visionary William Gibson to write an initial draft of the film where Hicks and Bishop battle the alien hordes aboard a space station. A Gibson-penned Aliens? That’s the stuff fan boy dreams are made of.
12. Paul Reiser – Burke
Paul Reiser played Weyland-Yutani corporation sleaze-ball Burke, who instructed the ill-fated colonists to investigate the xenomorphs — as he wanted to study the species — rather than sensibly nuke them. While the camaraderie between the actors on set is well documented, Reiser kept his distance as the film’s human villain, wanting to maintain a certain onscreen iciness.
When it came time for a character to meet their messy, messy end, Sigourney Weaver would give them a bouquet of flowers. For Reiser, she handed him a bunch of dead blossoms. While we are led to believe the cowardly Burke meets his fate fleeing from the alien terror, scenes were filmed off Ripley finding a cocooned Burke. Unfortunately, and like the scenes of Ripley finding Dallas in Alien, these didn’t make it into the final film.
Before Aliens, Reiser was better known as a stand-up comedian. Following the film’s success, Reiser went on to star in the long-running sitcom Mad About You, alongside Oscar-winner Helen Hunt. Recently, he’s appeared up in everything from Whiplash to Behind the Candelabra, and even had his own eponymous sitcom, The Paul Reiser Show. He’ll be on screen next in The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea with Jason Sudeikis and Jessica Biel.
11. Lance Henriksen – Bishop
Henriksen had planned to quit the acting business if his role as white-blooded android Bishop didn’t pan out. In the end, it turned the actor from something of a journeyman into sci-fi movie royalty. But this wasn’t the first time Henriksen had worked with director James Cameron, having played Detective Hal Vukovich in The Terminator. We’re sensing a pattern here.
According to Henriksen, the idea for the knife trick scene which introduces us to Bishop was known to everyone with the exception of poor Bill Paxton. Hence Paxton’s very real look of terror as Henriksen repeatedly stabs the knife at great speed between Paxton’s splayed hand.
Following Aliens, bigger roles started to come in for Henriksen in films such as The Quick and the Dead, Powder and The Last Samurai (the one without Tom Cruise). He even found time to appear in the Aliens follow-up, Alien 3. However, his most notable post Aliens roles were as Frank Black in the X-Files spin-off Millennium and as big bad Richard Charles in John Woo’s English-language debut Hard Target.
10. James Cameron
While director James Cameron obviously wasn’t in the film, you can’t have an Aliens list without giving the man his due. The film is very much his vision, with the director having a hand in everything from the design of the Alien Queen, to the editing of the film’s score. Legend has it that studio Fox were so impressed with the first 90-pages of Cameron’s script that they did the unthinkable and let Cameron take a break from script writing duties to direct The Terminator, before returning to the project.
Not that that impressed the British crew Cameron worked with during the shoot in London. With The Terminator yet to be released, most viewed the young director as a strange choice to succeed Brit Ridley Scott at the helm. Things came to a head when Cameron fired initial cinematographer Dick Bush over a disagreement on how to light the alien queen’s nest, with the rest of the crew quickly falling into line after that.
Cameron went on to have massive success with Terminator 2: Judgment Day and True Lies. But he’s now most well-known as the director of all-conquering Avatar and Titanic, which occupy numbers one and two respectively on the all-time global box office list. Next up for Cameron is directing duties on the four(!) Avatar sequels, with the first trip back to Pandora slated for 2018.
9. William Hope – Lieutenant Gorman
Hope played the inexperienced and way out of his depth Lieutenant Gorman. Internet legend is that like co-star Ricco Ross (who we’ll get to in a bit), Hope turned down a big role in Full Metal Jacket to play his role. Coincidentally, both films were shot in close proximity around London’s monolithic Battersea Power Station, with cast and crew from the two features getting to know each other in their downtime.
Trained at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Hope has worked steadily in stage, radio film and TV throughout his career. Following Aliens he picked up film work in Hellbound: Hellraiser II, XXX and even cropped up as a S.H.I.E.L.D agent in Captain America: The First Avenger. Hope regularly appears on British television, having had recurring roles in MI:5 (aka Spooks) and The Syndicate, as well as roles in classic British sitcoms Gimme, Gimme, Gimme and Drop the Dead Donkey. He even returned to the Aliens universe at one point, providing voices for the video game franchise Alien vs. Predator. But he’ll be best known to thousands of children everywhere as the voice of Edward and Toby in Thomas & Friends.
8. Jenette Goldstein – Private Vasquez
Aliens was Jenette Goldstein’s first role, and boy did she make an impact as fan favorite, smart-gun toting, bandana-wearing Private Vasquez. While the smart guns may have been jerry-rigged steadicams designed by Cameron himself, they undoubtedly gave Vasquez the look of an asskicker.
Goldstein teamed up once again with Aliens co-stars Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen for the 80s vampire classic Near Dark, followed by the cult classic TV show Max Headroom. Her major film work also includes Lethal Weapon 2 and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Goldstein also teamed back up with Aliens director James Cameron for Terminator 2: Judgment Day, where she played John Connors step-mother, and also had a blink and you’ll miss it part in Cameron’s all-conquering juggernaut Titanic. While Goldstein continues to work regularly in guest roles on TV, her role as Vasquez will always be remembered as one of the toughest characters in the franchise.
7. Al Matthews – Sergeant Apone
British-based American actor Al Matthews’ portrayal of cigar-chomping Sergeant Apone stands alongside R. Lee Ermey’s Gunnery Sergeant Hartman as one of the most memorable fictional marines in movie history. But since Aliens, acting work has been sporadic for Matthews, with typically minor roles as military types in actioners such as Tomorrow Never Dies. Like other members of the cast, Matthews returned to the franchise by lending his voice to the much-maligned Aliens: Colonial Marines. But before the acting career took off, Matthews broke into the UK singles chart in 1975 with the absolutely fantastic “Fool,” a song you really need to be listening to right now.
In real life, Matthews has his own place in the proud history of the US marine corp. During combat in Vietnam, he was the first African-American to be promoted to the level of sergeant in the field. In his six years of service he accumulated 13 combat medals, including two purple hearts.
6. Mark Rolston – Drake
Aliens fans surely recall the scene where Private Drake meets the wrong end of a flame-thrower (after catching acid in the face) following the marines’ deadly first encounter with the xenomorph beasties. If you found yourself thinking that Drake and Vasquez had a rather familiar relationship, then you were right. According to the shooting script, the two characters grew up in a tough-as-nails Hispanic slum before joining the Colonial Marines.
Since Aliens Rolston has appeared in Lethal Weapon 2 (alongside his fellow smart-gun toting marine Jenette Goldstein), Rush Hour and two installments of the horror-franchise Saw. But it’s television where Rolston has found the most success, appearing as PI Gordie Liman in The Shield, with parts in both CSI: NY and CSI: Miami. DC fans may also recognize Rolston’s voice as that of dastardly Lex Luthor and the not at all dastardly Jonathan Kent in Young Justice. How’s that for yin and yang?
He’s probably best known to mainstream film audiences for playing Delahunt, a member of Jack Nicholson’s crew, in The Departed, but we’ll always remember him for dying one of the most hardcore deaths in sci-fi history.
5. Daniel Kash (Spunkmeyer)
Spunkmeyer was Kash’s first film role, but he wasn’t exactly keen on taking the part. A graduate of The Drama Centre in London, and then roommate to one Colin Firth, Kash had his eyes set on treading the boards when his agent offered him the part of weapons loader Spunkmeyer. Kash initially turned down the part before eventually agreeing.
While Spunkmeyer’s demise in Aliens aboard the dropship is implied, Kash revealed in an interview that he likes to imagine Spunkmeyer somehow escaped out the dropship’s backdoor, despite readily admitting that there was no such thing on the vehicle.
Today, Kash continues to film regular work in TV and film, with recurring parts in hit shows like Orphan Black, The Strain and Hannibal (please, please someone bring back Hannibal). Sci-fi fans might even recognize him from the now cancelled series Alphas, where his character curiously changed from being Jewish to Iranian during the first season.
4. Collette Hiller – Corporal Fero
Unlike Kash, Aliens was Hiller’s last movie. The veteran actress played no-nonsense dropship pilot Corporal Fero, who meets a fiery end when her aircraft crashes following an encounter with an alien stowaway. Needless to say, this isn’t exactly what Ripley and the surviving Colonial Marines were hoping for.
A versatile artist, Hiller had appeared in the original production of musical sensation Annie, followed by a smattering of minor roles before she found herself behind the flight stick. Following Aliens, Hiller made her way onto British TV, appearing in Paul Merton: The Series and providing the voice of Officer Aurelia Took in Gerry Anderson’s cops-in-space show Space Precinct.
Perhaps more impressive is Hiller’s work transforming London’s public spaces into truly creative places. Having set up SingLondon, Hiller arranged for pianos to be placed throughout the city. These free-to-play pianos can be found in the likes of St. Pancras train station, transforming everyday environments into something truly special. This initiative was followed by PingLondon, which placed ping-pong tables through London and other major UK cities.
3. Ricco Ross – Private Frost
Ross played Private Frost, one of the marines who could be politely described as cannon fodder, although he does have a couple of lines before being killed off during the disastrous first-encounter with the alien horde.
Ross came to Aliens from relatively minor roles in TV and film, having featured in a few episodes of Hill Street Blues and as a security guard in the Chevy Chase/Dan Aykroyd spy spoof Spies Like Us. After playing the ill-fated Frost, Ross went on to another beloved sci-fi franchise, Doctor Who (Sylvester McCoy vintage) where he played the Ringmaster in the four-episode arc The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. During the 90s Ross picked up regular TV work, starring in short-lived series Sleepers, Westbeach and Bite Me, alongside pitching up in Tom Cruise’s first outing as agent Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible.
2. Cynthia Dale Scott – Dietrich
Former punk rocker Cynthia Dale Scott portrayed Corporal Dietrich, one of very first to buy it. Scott was initially cast as dropship pilot Ferro, having first read for the part of Vasquez before director James Cameron finally cast her as Dietrich. But there was a condition. Scot had to pump iron to get in shape for the role, which she did alongside co-star Mark Rolston. The two gym buddies would drive up to Pinewood Studios five days a week ahead of filming to use the onsite gym in order to look the part as seasoned marines, rather than struggling actors.
US-born Scott was involved in the UK’s burgeoning punk scene before receiving her equity card, which allowed her to pick up acting work in the UK. After moving back to the states the acting work dried up, although she featured in the Jason Patric-Jennifer Jason Leigh druggie drama Rush. Today, she works in New Orleans as a sculptor.
1. Bill Paxton – Hicks
Bill Paxton played boastful yet cowardly Private Hicks, one of the few marines to make it through most of the film, if not exactly to the end. Throughout filming, Paxton would constantly apologize to the young Carrie Henn for swearing in front of her. Paxton claims that many of his lines were improvised, including the classic “Game over, man. Game over,” which players of punishing Super Nintendo game Alien 3 will have heard ad-nauseum.
Paxton has been a Hollywood mainstay since the 80s, appearing in both True Lies and Titanic for Aliens director James Cameron, and Tombstone with Aliens alumni Michael Biehn. For five seasons, he fronted HBO’s polygamy drama Big Love, and recently featured as the main antagonist in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Alongside acting, Paxton has had an acclaimed directing career, turning in southern fried gothic horror Frailty (seriously, seek this out) and the under-scene period golfing drama, The Greatest Game Ever Played.
Did we leave out any of your favorite Aliens stars? Let us know in the comments.
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